Lavinia Goodell: Wisconsin's First Woman Lawyer

The first woman lawyer admitted to the Wisconsin Supreme Court had to fight for that status, overcoming opposition from the most powerful legal figure in the state. Lavinia Goodell (1839-1880) was also one of the first female trial lawyers in the United States, a nationally-respected writer, a Vice President of the Association for the Advancement of Woman, a candidate for Janesville City Attorney, a successful lobbyist, a jail reformer, and a temperance advocate. Yet she is undeservedly obscure. Another woman’s likeness adorns her spot in books, on the web, and at the Rock County Courthouse. Lavinia Goodell: The Private Life and Public Trials of Wisconsin’s First Woman Lawyer aims to secure her rightful place in history.

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“You are nothing but what you aspire to be.”

Lavinia Goodell, May 5, 1860

The fourth installment in Lavinia Goodell’s series of humorous articles giving young men advice on how to win a wife was published in the Principia  (her father’s anti-slavery newspaper) the week of her twenty-first birthday in 1860. With the Civil War looming on the horizon, the paper’s early pages contained an article by Rev. Henry Cheever titled “Way-marks in the moral war with slavery,”
Continue Reading “You are nothing but what you aspire to be.”

“My admission seems to amuse Deacon Eldred.”

Lavinia Goodell, June 30, 1874

During the eight years that Lavinia Goodell lived in Janesville, Wisconsin, in addition to first studying and then practicing law, she was a member of the Congregational Church, actively promoted temperance, and worked to establish a free reading room in the city. Through her participation in these activities she met many prominent Janesville citizens with common interests. One of them was F. S. Eldred.

Frederick Starr Eldred
Continue Reading “My admission seems to amuse Deacon Eldred.”

“In this era of Progress, young ladies have got their eyes open.”
Lavinia Goodell, April 1860

In the spring of 1860, Lavinia Goodell wrote a six-part series titled “Chapters to Young Men, on How to Win a Wife,” which was published in her father’s anti-slavery newspaper, the Principia. (Read about the first two installments here and here.)

Lavinia’s offerings appeared in the “Family Miscellany” section at the end of the weekly paper. They provided some levity in a
Continue Reading “In this era of Progress, young ladies have got their eyes open.”

“Miss Goodell will be admitted to practice in this court.”
Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Oramus Cole, June 18, 1879

Justice Orasmus Cole

Lavinia Goodell’s name will forever be linked with that of Wisconsin Supreme Court Chief Justice Edward Ryan since he was the author of the infamous opinion that held only men were eligible to practice law in Wisconsin and denied Lavinia’s first petition for admission to practice before the Wisconsin Supreme Court . (Read
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“Have a character! Mean something.”
Lavinia Goodell, April 21, 1860

In the second chapter of her series-  published the Principia – imparting advice on how young men could win a wife (read about the first chapter here), twenty year old Lavinia Goodell continued her theme that if a young man expected to attract a prospective spouse of high character, he would need to convince the young woman that he was worthy of her. She began:

Lavinia continued, “Do
Continue Reading “Have a character! Mean something.”

“Sent for Dr. Chittenden and had a consultation with him.”

Lavinia Goodell, May 7, 1877

When Lavinia Goodell and her parents lived in Janesville, Wisconsin in the 1870s, their family physician was G. W. Chittenden, a surgeon as well as a homeopathic practitioner.

Dr. G. W. Chittenden

George Washington Chittenden was born in Oneida County, New York in 1820. His father fought in the Revolutionary War. Dr. Chittenden graduated from Albany Medical College in 1846 and after practicing a
Continue Reading “Sent for Dr. Chittenden and had a consultation with him.”

“A man has got to be something, if he is going to win something.”
Lavinia Goodell, April 1860

From 1859 until early 1865, Lavinia Goodell assisted her father in editing and publishing the Principia, an anti-slavery newspaper, from its offices in lower Manhattan. She also wrote dozens of pieces for the paper. None carried a full byline. Many were simply signed “L.” In the spring of 1860, twenty year old Lavinia wrote a series of articles titled “Chapters
Continue Reading “A man has got to be something, if he is going to win something.”

“Nobody is fitted for a low place, and everybody is taught to look for a high one.”
Lavinia Goodell, January 1862

In January of 1862, twenty-two year old Lavinia Goodell wrote an article for her father’s anti-slavery newspaper the Principia titled Errors in Education.

The proposition of the piece was that all young people were encouraged to strive to achieve high office or positions of honor when in fact most people would be better served by filling humbler stations
Continue Reading “Nobody is fitted for a low place, and everybody is taught to look for a high one.”

“Went to the excursion to the Dells. Splendid scenery.”
Lavinia Goodell, October 11, 1879

In October 1879, less than six months before her death, Lavinia Goodell attended the American Women’s Association Congress in Madison. Read more about it here and here.  While Lavinia reported that the convention included “no end of unsatisfactory Board meetings,” on Saturday, October 11, she joined one hundred other women – and less than a dozen men – on a train trip to the
Continue Reading “Went to the excursion to the Dells. Splendid scenery.”

“Let a man repose the same trust in the woman he marries that she reposes in him.”

Lavinia Goodell, November 1879

A previous post discussed how in the fall of 1879 Lavinia Goodell, in a series of articles published in the Woman’s Journal, countered editorials in the Christian Union newspaper which advised women to submit to their husbands.

In its October 29, 1879 issue, the Christian Union called out Lavinia by name and said her proposition that a wife
Continue Reading “Let a man repose the same trust in the woman he marries that she reposes in him.”

“Abject submission is not the way to an honorable peace.”
Lavinia Goodell, September 1879

Lavinia Goodell never married or had children, but she was a lifelong proponent of full equal rights for women, including marriage equality.  In the fall of 1879, she wrote a series of articles (read more here) countering pieces that appeared in the Christian Union newspaper that admonished women to defer to their husbands. Lavinia’s rebuttals ran in Lucy Stone’s Woman’s Journal. Lavinia’s first offering,
Continue Reading “Abject submission is not the way to an honorable peace.”

“There is no death – what seems so is transition.”

Lavinia Goodell, quoting Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, November 1861

At this time of year, those of us who live in the northern states become keenly aware that summer is over. Leisurely drives to observe the fall colors are a favored pastime for many.

Lavinia Goodell, too, was a fan of autumn. The Goodell family’s correspondence in the 1860s and 1870s often contained some comment about the weather, and Lavinia’s letters
Continue Reading “There is no death – what seems so is transition.”

“I expect to start Tuesday p.m. of Sept. 5”
Lavinia Goodell, August 27, 1871

During this week in 1871, thirty-two year old Lavinia Goodell left New York City and her job at Harper’s Bazar behind and boarded the first of a series of trains that would take her to Janesville, Wisconsin where she would live for the remaining eight and a half years of her life.

Lavinia’s departure from New York was unexpected. In June 1871, her sister and
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“Trees, en masse, are like humanity en masse”

Lavinia Goodell, June 1861

During the Civil War years, when Lavinia Goodell assisted her father in publishing his anti-slavery newspaper, the Principia, she wrote a large number of pieces for the paper. (Some of them are featured here, here, and here.)  None of Lavinia’s contributions bear her full name, and many are signed only “L” or “L.G.” The anonymity allowed Lavinia to assume the identity of a
Continue Reading “Trees, en masse, are like humanity en masse”

“Put up at Park Hotel. Quite a stylish place.”
Lavinia Goodell, December 20, 1875

During the time Lavinia Goodell lived in Janesville, Wisconsin in the 1870s, she would occasionally have to take the train to Madison, the state’s capitol, for business. When she needed to stay overnight in Madison, she chose the Park Hotel.

Park Hotel, Madison, Wisconsin 1870s

The Park Hotel, at the corner of Main and Carroll Streets on the capitol square, opened in August of 1871
Continue Reading “Put up at Park Hotel. Quite a stylish place.”

“The Gazette is on the side of the people.”
Wisconsin State Journal, July 12, 1875

1870s Janesville, Wisconsin was not a large city, and its residents frequently encountered one another in both business and social settings. During her years in Janesville, Lavinia Goodell developed a very cordial relationship with the proprietors of the Janesville Gazette, both the local editor, Nicholas Smith, and the paper’s co-owner and editor-in-chief, General James Bintliff.

General James Bintliff (Photo courtesy of Wisconsin Historical
Continue Reading “The Gazette is on the side of the people.”